When I lived in Los Angeles, I would ride my bike to a local coffee shop to work on writing projects. This was in the early days of blogging and I was convinced I’d pen an ever-so-slightly-embellished memoir about spending my college years in the thick of a formidable religious organization that was perhaps really a glorified cult? I didn’t write the book (thank the Lord), but I did pedal to that tiny coffee shop daily, convinced this would be the day a caffeinated bean would settle into my soul and sprout a brilliant, best-selling work of literature.
Our neighborhood was hilly – just a few blocks from the ocean – and there was one particular hill that caused me great agony. Bee, your mother is not of the athletic variation, and at the time, I had just re-learned to ride a bike. (Whoever said that riding a bike isn’t something you can forget has never witnessed your father’s Greatest Project of 2006, that looong summer he finally taught me to balance atop my mint green beach cruiser whilst riding in repeated circles through an Italian eatery’s parking lot).
But this hill, Bee, was not for the faint of calves. It was high and long and grueling with just enough incline and not nearly enough ways to talk myself out of the route. Going around the hill meant adding 10-15 minutes to my biking commute, and the only thing I hate worse than exercise is exercise that takes a long time.
So every day I would pedal and pedal and pedal up this hill – cheeks flushed, head down, fists clenched. My helmet would get sweaty and I’d curse my thighs for not being cooperative and also curse my gut for craving so much cheese the night before, and also curse the coffee shop for positioning itself amidst such a gruesome topography.
And then, just as I was beginning to curse modern technologists for not creating pedestrian, roadside elevators – hillevators, I’d call them – I’d reach the top. And Bee, the top would smack me in the face every time.
It was just high enough that I’d see the ocean in its entirety – the wide, vast, glistening blue ocean – and day after day after day it would amaze me. I’d rescind my curses to everything else and, instead, curse myself for my staggering lack of gratitude.
It takes a change of perspective to notice this about ourselves, our bad habits of blaming thighs and cheese and coffee shop locations. It takes the company of something larger than us – oceans so big that we find our very eyes and bodies and spirits swallowed by the vastness that lies before us. And sometimes it takes a grueling hill to see that our valleys are little more than inconveniences nestled between great and beautiful moments.
Bee, we are in a bit of a valley, my dear. You’re not sleeping, and I’m quick to blame things: our dogs and your stuffed animal addictions and the fact that we could never muster the strength to let you cry yourself to sleep. I blame myself or your father or our genes, pedaling and pedaling with cheeks flushed, head down, fists clenched.
But Bee, we’ve been in valleys before, and we always, always reach the top of these hills together. And when we do, I shake my head at myself for ever doubting our strength – for ever placing value on these little inconveniences that lead us into great and beautiful moments.
And so, today, I’m making my own hillevator, and I’m calling it Gratitude. I’m choosing to be grateful for your high energy that I’m sure will come in handy when we need our driveway shoveled. I’m grateful for the strong will you’ll enable when peer pressure arrives and things start to look hard.
And I’m grateful for your endurance – this brutal endurance you display nightly at 3am. You’ll use this when you pedal through your own hills – when you overcome your fears and blames and inconveniences – to witness something glorious, something beyond your wildest imaginations: a vast ocean that awaits you.
And Bee, you might need a hillevator to get there – or two. And that’s where we come in. Consider this letter the official blueprint. Construction TBD.
p.s. More letters to Bee here.